Meals at the Home; Meals All Alone:Nutritional Competency and Food Security Relative to Transition from Residential Youth Care to Independence

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Blair, Valerie
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Youth cared for as part of the child welfare system struggle with the transition from custodial care to independence. This has been attributed to a variety of reasons including lack of a social support network and limited financial resources. Residential group care facilities strive to guide youth towards autonomy and healthy adulthood by teaching independent life skills; however, these facilities vary in their emphasis and approach to life skills training and transitional support services. This research explored how youth in care develop nutrition competence, an issue of great importance given the relationship between dietary patterns and long-term health. A naturalistic inquiry approach was used to better understand transition and the process of developing nutritional competence within the youth care environment. Seven youth and five residential youth care staff were purposively selected to participate. In-depth interviews were conducted using an interview script, the development of which was informed by Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory. Data were analyzed using constant comparison methods that ultimately led to two major categories: Transitional Life Skills and Transitional Outcomes. The development of nutritional competency was subject to many influences that were both internal and external to the residential group care environment. All the youth participants acknowledged nutritional competency development while residing in congregate care, however, the significant influences varied for each participant. Transitional outcomes of homelessness, poverty and isolation impaired the youths’ capacity to apply nutritional competencies. For many, transitional outcomes mediated 5 experiences of food insecurity and reliance on charitable organizations to supplement food intakes. Youth who had experienced unplanned discharges were more susceptible to homelessness, severe food insecurity and poverty. Conversely, the youth who followed a permanency plan that included residence in supervised apartments generally attained higher levels of education and had more comprehensive life skills. Residential youth care staff identified nutritional competency development as an area that required more attention from various social influences including government stakeholders; youth care associations and community groups so that programs could do better in terms of preparing youth for transition. The results of this study exposed some of the challenges youth face in the application of nutritional competency following transition from custodial care. A combination of incomplete life skills preparation and transitional adjustments to changes in social relations perpetuated the struggle. The establishment of supportive networks to bridge the gaps between the custodial care and independence environments will help improve the youths’ transitional outcomes and capacity to utilize nutritional competencies. Transitional supports would include: family, youth care workers, social workers, adequate financial resources, supervised apartment placements and extensive life skill programs based on experiential learning
Nutrition , Deinstitutionalization , Problem youth , Nova Scotia , Institutional care